PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Earlier this year, restaurateur Jason Sugarman was at Katz’s Delicatessen when he struck up a conversation with a man standing next to him in line. The legendary Jewish deli in New York City’s Lower East Side was established in 1888, and skips the frills to serve mile-high pastrami and corned beef sandwiches on exceptional rye bread, along with bowls of exceptional matzoh ball soup. Their classic bites cost a pretty penny, but they are made from scratch, with plenty of attention to detail: Their corned beef takes a full 30 days to cure (in comparison commercially prepared meats that take about 36 hours).
Sugarman asked the man how often he came to Katz’s. The man, Sugarman recalled recently, told him that he saves up his money to take the subway from Brooklyn to the Lower East Side and buys himself a $28 Katz’s sandwich once a month. He’s been doing it for years.
“And I thought, ‘Bingo.’ That’s what I want this to be here,” said Sugarman, sitting in a booth at his own deli, Maven’s Delicatessen, which will open in Pawtucket on Nov. 27. “A place where its nostalgic, and a deli where people just have to go.”
Born in Rhode Island, Sugarman lived in a lot of places over the years, and traveled often as a child. From Los Angeles to Florida, he’d find and enjoy delis that were sentimental to the communities they were located in. But he couldn’t find one in Rhode Island.
Now, Maven’s is one of the most-anticipated restaurant openings of this year. During an interview on a recent evening, the lights were on, and several people came to the door and peered inside, even trying to get in. When it opens on Nov. 27, Maven’s will serve breakfast all day, and the shop will be open seven days a week until 9 p.m. during the week and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays.
The space resembles a traditional deli, but with modern flair. The floor tiles look like black-and-white cookies, a long counter will display house-cured meats and desserts, kids will be handed old-school comic books to flip through at the table, and fresh bagels will be hung up on pegs behind the cash register. Diners will be able to cozy up in booths or dining tables. In the back, there’s a long window where people can peer into the kitchen, watching employees slicing meat and preparing sandwiches.
Maven’s co-owner is Sugarman’s wife, Lauren. She grew up in Cranston and attended the Rhode Island School of Design. She’s picked out all the art on the deep blue walls — old black-and-white photos of delis, as well as her own creations.
In the scratch kitchen, everything is being made in house. They use his grandmother’s noodle kugel recipe, cure their own meats, and make their own bagels and rye bread. They’ll have bagel-and-lox plates with smoked salmon, capers, red onions, and house-made schmear. It won’t be kosher, since Maven’s will have sandwiches that combine meat and dairy, but a sign at the door of the restaurant reads: “Maven’s is a delicatessen in the heimish (homey) tradition. Although we are not certified kosher, we are certified delicious.” It was written by Rabbi Preston D. Neimeiser of Temple Beth-El in Providence.
During a recent press dinner, a server came around with a cart of black cherry, cream, and cel-ray Dr. Brown sodas that Sugarman brought in from New York. They’ll be on the menu, and Maven’s will also serve beer and wine.
Scott Taylor spent much of his career working in the front of the house at Aquavit New York, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Midtown Manhattan serving seasonal Nordic cuisine. But he studied baking and pastry at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, and will serve as Maven’s executive chef and bakery director. He says he likes to modernize classic desserts and sweeter plates, and will do so at Maven’s with items like carrot cake pancakes and Challah French Toast with sour cream.
Sugarman’s partner is Jamie D’Oliveira, who will also serve as the deli’s culinary director. He was the previous owner of Red Stripe and Mills Tavern, and has worked with Sugarman’s father, who franchised Jonny Rockets, for years. Opening Maven’s “is [Sugarman’s] childhood dream coming true,” chuckled D’Oliveira.
“I’ve wanted to open a deli like this for years,” said Sugarman. “For a while, around the time of the pandemic, I didn’t think it was ever going to happen, and I threw out all the menus that I had collected from other delis over the years that I planned to use for inspiration.
“But then it kept coming back to me. I needed to open Maven’s,” added Sugarman. “And I think Rhode Island needed Maven’s.”
Maven’s Delicatessen, 727 East Ave., Pawtucket, R.I. 401-205-8560, mavensdeli.com